Voivod/Gramercy Theatre/February 7, 2016
In 1981 Jonquière, Quebec, Canada, guitarist Denis “Piggy” D’Amour asked Jean-Yves “Blacky” Thériault to play bass in his fledgling band. Before long, Blacky brought a friend from high school, Michel “Away” Langevin, to play drums. Blacky and Away needed time to develop their skills, so the band took a one-year hiatus. The band became Voivod in 1982 and recruited vocalist Denis “Snake” Bélanger in 1983. Over the years, Voivod changed musical styles several times, starting as a speed metal band, then leaning alternately between progressive metal and thrash metal. The band gained mainstream success in 1989 with its fifth studio album, Nothingface. After 13 albums, Voivod will release an EP, Post Society, on February 26, 2016. After many personnel changes, including the death of Piggy and several band breakups and reunions, Voivod currently consists of Snake, Away, guitarist Daniel “Chewy” Mongrain and bassist Dominique Laroche.
Voivod touched down at the Gramercy Theatre on Super Bowl Sunday, tearing like a powersaw through a 13-song set that spanned three decades of metal, including three songs from the forthcoming EP. The set opened with “Ripping Headaches,” and throughout the performance similarly emphasized the band’s 1980s catalogue. “Tribal Convictions” launched the evening’s first mosh pit. Most of the set hinged on speed and thrash, and despite the passing of Piggy, Voivod continued to push out dissonant guitar chords. Highlights included the band’s signature song, “Voivod,” and the set closer and Pink Floyd cover, “Astronomy Domine,” from the Nothingface days. Snake did not pretend to be much of a vocalist; on the fast songs, his talky singing was flat, off-key and delivered with as much of a cynical sneer as Johnny Rotten, and on the faster songs he sounded like a disciple of the late Lemmy Kilmister. Snake wore a Motörhead t-shirt, perhaps remembering the recent passing of Kilmister; ironically, Voivod presently is the closest sounding band to Motörhead.
Graveyard/Bowery Ballroom/February 8, 2016
Blues rock from Sweden? When Gothenburg-based doom/stoner band Norrsken folded in 2000 after five years together, guitarist/vocalist Joakim Nilsson and bassist Rikard Edlund formed a growly blues band called Albatross. Albatross also split after five years, and Nilsson and Eklund formed another blues rock band, Graveyard, in 2006. Eklund left Graveyard in 2014, so the band currently consists of Nilsson, guitarist Jonatan Larocca-Ramm, bassist Truls Mörck and Albatross drummer Axel Sjöberg. Graveyard’s fourth album, Innocence & Decadence, was released on September 25, 2015.
At the Bowery Ballroom, Graveyard unearthed a classic blues rock sound from the 1970s. In those founding days of hard rock, musicians adapted American blues to rock and turned up the volume and the fuzz. Blues continues to be the root of Graveyard’s music, but may be too fast and loud for purists. Nilsson’s gravelly voice sang and shouted lyrics, and the musicians fearlessly pounded out rich, tasteful licks that sounded like they were researched well from a thorough American music library. The sound was not so much retro, however, as it was a modern adaption, adding contemporary tunings and effects to an older sound. The delivery was intentionally a bit coarse, giving authenticity to its blues calling. Graveyard is a strong band for older music fans.
George Clinton & Parliament-Funkadelic/B.B. King’s Blues Club & Grill/February 9, 2016
George Clinton started making music when he was a hair stylist in the 1960s in Plainfield, New Jersey. By the late 1970s, he had conceived a veritable music factory out of hard rocking funk riffs, leading and/or masterminding The Parliaments (later known as Parliament), Funkadelic, the P-Funk All Stars and many other groups. Due to legal battles over royalties in 1982, Clinton became a solo artist in name only, as his collaborators were many of the same musicians. After staging some of the most extravagant live shows of the 1970s, Clinton and company started to lose prominence but never quite died out, influencing future generations of funksters. Clinton’s most recent album is 2008’s George Clinton and His Gangsters of Love.
On Fat Tuesday 2016, George Clinton & Parliament-Funkadelic returned to B.B. King’s Blues Club & Grill for a three-hour groove-athon. The stage was packed with singers, musicians and others whose roles were questionable. The lineup changed often, to where an audience member could no longer count how many people were involved in the music. Clinton himself was mostly on stage simply as an animator, occasionally singing hoarsely and at other times sitting on a chair as the musicians jammed and the singers sang. Sizzling guitar, keyboard and horn leads traded licks, as the vocalists retreated and then returned to remind the listeners that these songs were old favorites, including “Flashlight,” “One Nation Under a Groove,” “Give Up the Funk (Tear The Roof Off the Sucker),” and “Atomic Dog.” The loose spirit of the funk permeated everything for a well-rounded Mardi Gras party.
Fleshgod Apocalypse/Gramercy Theatre/February 12, 2016
Fleshgod Apocalypse formed as a death metal band in 2007 in Perugia, Italy. Fleshgod Apocalypse presently consists of original lead guitarist Cristiano Trionfera and bassist Paolo Rossi, along with lead vocalist/rhythm guitarist Tommaso Riccardi, keyboardist Francesco Ferrini and drummer Francesco Paoli. Shortly after the 2009 release of the band’s debut album, Paoli moved to the drums and was replaced by new member Riccardi. Paoli simultaneously had been the vocalist in Hour of Penance and the drummer in Fleshgod Apocalypse until 2010, when he quit Hour of Penance to focus exclusively on Fleshgod Apocalypse. Ferrini, the pianist and orchestrator of Oracles and Mafia, was added to Fleshgod Apocalypse as pianist and orchestrator in 2010, as the band moved deeper in symphonic death metal. Fleshgod Apocalypse’s fourth album, King, was released on February 5, 2016.
Fleshgod Apocalypse came on stage at the Gramercy Theatre looking like medieval zombies, pale-faced and wearing matching badly-wrinkled, dusty-looking, long-jacketed grey suits. A masked woman dressed in a long, wrinkled grey dress and holding a tall staff stood at a microphone stand in the background, adding operatic backing vocals. The music and the hair spinning began with the introduction from King, “March of Royale” and “In Aeternum,” followed by “Minotaur (The Wrath of Poseidon) from 2013’s Labyrinth. The songs were lengthy and complex, and so was the story they seemed to tell. Riccardi introduced “Pathfinder” and “The Fool” by cryptically explaining the storylines. The compositions moved from interlude to interlude, led by death growls, stinging guitar leads and synthesized orchestral flourishes. The set formally ended with “Prologue” and “Epilogue” from Labyrinth, but the band returned with encores of “In Honour of Reason” from 2009’s debut album, Oracles, and “The Forsaking” from 2011’s Agony. The entire performance consisted of nine songs, and only the opening sequence came from the newest album. In the end, Fleshgod Apocalypse finely curated metal music with medieval mystique for a unique headbanging performance.